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Korean student’s fatal fall underlines wider safety imperative

A South Korean international student tragically fell to her death at Seven Sisters cliffs in Sussex, UK, while posing for a photo this summer. The 23-year-old Hyewon Kin asked a stranger to take a photo as she jumped in the air when she slipped and fell 60 metres.

Seven Sisters cliffs - student safetySeven Sisters cliffs, where South Korean student Hyewon Kim died this summer. Photo: Flickr/Simone Girlanda

“We recognise the vulnerability of international students in a new environment"

Her tragic death from a head injury was a reminder of the extra risks that face international students as they negotiate life in a new country with only emerging language skills – and the responsibility for safety that language schools have to consider.

A spokesperson from the South Korean Embassy in London has confirmed to The PIE News that the student was in the UK studying English in Bournemouth.

“Particularly regarding the accident at Seven Sisters, the Embassy has been advising the public to be mindful of their safety when travelling the area through the Embassy website: [to take] precaution when travelling tourist spots near cliffs,” the Embassy spokesperson says.

Sarah Cooper, chief executive at English UK, underlines that student safety standards are a requirement for her members.

Centres include safety advice during the induction process featuring a range of advice from general safety at night to targeted safety information for any trips.

“We recognise the vulnerability of international students in a new environment,” Cooper says, adding that some schools include locally specific scenarios into their inductions.

“One school advises its students not to wear football shirts when the local team has a match as it might aggravate local fans”

She elaborates, “One school advises its students not to wear football shirts when the local team has a match as it might aggravate local fans.”

Sadly, there are stories of accidents or tragedies involving students in numerous study destinations. An international student in Dublin was admitted to hospital with serious head injuries in October, following a collision with a cyclist while crossing the road.

Just crossing the street can be a danger when abroad, as of course can driving while in an unfamiliar country. In June, two international students in Australia were killed in separate car accidents within a week in the Northern Territory.

All types of “fun” are also fraught with risk. In Malta, a trend for rock jumping a few years ago created extra stress for English language schools – a spokesperson underlined students received “repeated warnings from their schools and group leaders” – as there was a spate of injuries.

For undergraduate-age students, drinking and socialising at night, and travelling late around a city, is also an area that merits detailed advice and caution.

Last year, the family of a Chinese student in Canada sued the emergency service operator, Dalhousie university and some associates of their daughter, after she died from alcohol poisoning after a get-together on campus.

For undergraduate-age students, drinking and socialising at night, and travelling late around a city, is also an area that merits detailed advice and caution

At Dalhousie, the university has considerable resources regarding issues of welfare, with guidance on alcohol safety and Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines, as well as consent, community behaviour and even an app providing quick access to security services.

But safety is ultimately the responsibility of the students too.

Helen Clews at the British Council emphasises the importance of international students integrating into new communities to help mitigate risks.

“[International students] say it [integration] has helped them to learn local behaviours and how to be more vigilant about their surroundings and ensured a real sense of self awareness,” she tells The PIE News.

Clew says it takes the duty of care of international students very seriously. The Council ensures free access to the publications online and QR codes are available to download them to phones. 

In the case of Hyewon Kim, the case illustrates the wider consideration that local councils or tourism bodies need to consider in terms of warning signs being in multiple languages.

A spokesperson from East Sussex county council told The PIE News signs featuring a symbol warning people about the danger of the cliff edge were in place at entrances to the park and along the clifftop walk. Other signs displayed around the site show written warnings.

Local councils or tourism bodies need to consider in terms of warning signs being in multiple languages

“Staff in the visitor centre warn visitors about the danger where applicable, for example if people are asking how to get to the cliffs,” he added.

Cooper sees this incident as part of a bigger picture.

“With regard to this specific case, I think there is a wider question beyond international students, which applies to all international tourists who may have low levels of English, as to the advisability of danger signs being in other languages. In this scenario specifically, it would seem an obvious thing to do.

“This is a truly tragic story and it emphasises how critical it is not only to advise but also reinforce dangers which may not be apparent to international visitors.”

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